(Updated: A case can be made that the Syrian rebels must not be defeated, because this would represent an Iranian victory. But, and disturbingly, even if one could argue that the rebels must be helped, this would be a policy conducted dishonestly.
Most are not aware that almost all the weapons provided by the United States will end up in the hands of pro-Muslim Brotherhood units. How would the American people feel if they knew that truth? At this point, almost 100 percent of the fighters on the front lines are radical Islamists. The exiled political leadership is overwhelmingly Muslim Brotherhood.
This is a choice of Sunni anti-Christians, anti-Americans, and anti-Semites vs. Shia anti-Christians, anti-Americans, and anti-Semites. The United States — after Egypt and Tunisia — is now promoting the Muslim Brotherhood as regional hegemon. This is not a good idea.)
A new, important development has taken place in the Syrian civil war: Western panic that the rebels are losing has replaced optimism, and this has spurred a desire to do something about the war. But how can the West do enough to prevent the feared rebel defeat? It isn’t going to intervene directly, nor with a large enough effort to stave off a loss. Anyway, is a defeat imminent?
This has been a war during which each week brings a proclamation of a different victor. I don’t believe that the Syrian regime is poised for a victory; a lot of people in Washington and other world capitals do. This round has, however, been different in that significant alarms have been raised in both the West and the Sunni Muslim world that the Shia Muslim side is in fact winning — meaning that Iran is emerging triumphant over the United States.
What are the implications?
Iran is not going to take over the Middle East, nor is it about to win a lot of Sunni followers. Iran’s limit of influence is mainly in Lebanon and Syria (where its ally only controls half the country) and to a lesser extent Iraq. Tehran can fool around in Yemen, Bahrain, and southwest Afghanistan a bit too, but that’s about it. There are real limits.
Why, though, does the Iran bloc seem to be winning? The reasons:
– Iran’s proxies are better organized than the Syrian rebels.
They are unified, with Hizballah and the Syrian government being coherent forces, and a new people’s army being a single militia. In contrast, the rebels are divided into a dozen groups which may cooperate, but which also battle among themselves and don’t coordinate very well.
– The Iran bloc gives more support to its proxies than do the Sunni bloc or the West.
Among the Sunnis, they are also divided into Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood, Salafists, and al-Qaeda) and what might be called non- or anti-Islamists. The United States will not intervene in a big way. Remember that in Libya, NATO had to hand the rebels victory by destroying their regime enemies. Nothing like this will happen in Syria. The Obama administration will face a defeat rather than do so.
– This means that the United States has worse and weaker proxies than does the other side.
In part, this is because the Obama administration accepted their destruction, as in the dismantlement of the Turkish army’s power, the overthrow of the Egyptian regime, the subverting of Israel’s leverage, and the failure to support moderates or non-Islamist conservatives all over the region. Iraq has also been turned into a Shia power.
In short, Obama helped dismantle the old strategic order and replaced it with one where enemies of America rejoiced.
So what happens if U.S. policy exaggerates a Sunni defeat, intensified by Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan — those who backed the Syrian rebels — begging it to do more?
Let me point out that once again this shows that the Arab-Israeli conflict is unimportant in the contemporary Middle East. This idea simply doesn’t seem to penetrate the brains of Western leaders. Perhaps Secretary of State John Kerry has turned into a full-time “peacemaker” because he thinks that defusing the conflict will shore up the Sunni Muslim side, which is ridiculous. There’s not going to be any progress on peace, if for no other reason than the Palestinian Authority is terrified of either Islamist or Shia Islamist conquest of the region. Even if they wanted to make a deal — and they don’t — they’d be scared off by thinking peacemaking is suicidal.
But the wider issue could convince policymakers to enter an open alliance with Sunnis, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to counter the Shias. The Saudis and others would be pressured to get along with the Muslim Brotherhood; Israel would be pushed not to do anything to disrupt the grand alliance. Again, this could happen, but it won’t work if it does.
There is an alternative: the United States will understand that Israel is just about the only reliable ally in the Middle East. It might take another president to do that.